Hoffman Estates officials take last look inside former Sears HQ before its demolition

  “These seats are still pretty darn comfortable,” said Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod as he gets up from one of the many empty cubicles at the former Sears headquarters in Hoffman Estates Friday before its demolition begins. Brian Hill/
  Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod looks over a piece of history left behind as he and his village board colleagues take a final tour of the former Sears headquarters Friday ahead of its imminent demolition. Brian Hill/

Current representatives of the Hoffman Estates village board, that approved the once-mighty Sears’ corporate headquarters to move from downtown Chicago to 273 vacant acres in the suburbs 35 years ago, toured the sprawling campus one last time Friday ahead of its imminent demolition.

All 2.4 million square feet of office space and supportive structures Sears built there in the early ’90s will be removed by Carol Stream-based American Demolition to make way for a data center campus designed by Compass Datacenters of Dallas.

Walking through the echoing lobby, darkened cafeteria and suddenly abandoned office cubicles, Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod couldn’t help but think of his very different tour as a trustee during the campus’ grand opening.

“What a contrast! It’s like a ghost town,” he said. “It was very vibrant.”

At its peak, the campus was home to about 9,000 employees. But when the last of them were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, they never returned.

McLeod noted that the family photos and boxes of cookies that were still on people’s desks when Compass bought the property last summer made it seem like everyone had just been vaporized in an instant.

Jeff Olson, project executive for American Demolition, said as much experience as he and his company have, the tear down of such a massive complex is going to be a memorable one.

“It comes but once in a career to a demolish a building of this size,” he said.

One of the 30 largest structures in the world in terms of square footage, the former Sears headquarters is significantly ahead of even the John Hancock and Empire State buildings, Olson added.

But Compass officials said American Demolition was selected specifically for its proven ability to minimize waste and maximize reuse of materials, she added.

Dominick DiSilvio, American Demolition’s vice president of estimating, said about 95% of the structure would be recycled — keeping 400 million pounds of debris out of landfills.

The team members said the building is still in very good shape, making it a much safer environment for their crews than one abandoned to the elements for years and years.

The most distinctive aspect of the work ahead is the size of the complex — the sheer number of desks and chairs and even staplers that need to be cleared out before the heavy equipment starts taking the buildings down one by one, top to bottom, west to east, Olson said.

Though all of it now is legally owned by Compass Datacenters, the only element that will survive in its current form beyond the next 12 to 18 months is the encased model of the campus in the lobby.

“It’s the only thing they want,” he said.

But it won’t be as if Sears never existed, McLeod said. The nearby presence of the entertainment and commercial district anchored by the Now Arena as well as the residential development that sprang up around it attest to that.

“If it wasn’t for Sears, we wouldn’t have a west side,” he said.

  Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod, center, looks over a model of the former Sears campus in its own lobby as he and fellow officials take a final tour of the headquarters Friday before its demolition. Brian Hill/
  Hoffman Estates officials, including Mayor Bill McLeod, foreground, take a final tour of the three-decade-old former Sears headquarters Friday before its more than yearlong demolition begins to make way for a data center campus. Brian Hill/
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